In Defense of Marxism: New Democracy remains true its bourgeois colors

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In Discussion Bulletin #103, the group called New Democracy, contrary to its usual habit of ignoring political criticism, has done us the honor of responding to our denunciation of their bourgeois character and counter-revolutionary politics. In its reply ND, behind a renewed attack on Marxism, has tried hard to defend its supposed revolutionary intentions, but perhaps unknowingly what it really has done is to corroborate our charge that they are a bourgeois organization. By ND’s own account its two founding members are ex-militants of a now defunct maoist leftist organization, the Progressive Labor Party, who split from this organization to form another "Party" and later on ND. These individuals, whatever their intentions, instead of breaking with their political past in counter-revolutionary Stalinism, have simply moved from the defense of leftist bourgeois ideology to the forefront of the bourgeois attacks on Marxism, with the addition of a sort of democratic bourgeois rubbish developed by their guru David Stratman, the main ideologue of ND.

New Democracy distortions of Marxism

For former maoists, the ND crowd are quite unsophisticated in their distortion of Marxism. In their writings one can find all kind of nonsense, like the one which af nonsense, like the one which affirms that "for Marx whatever increases economic production is good; whatever fetters it is bad" or the one that says that "Marxism turned into a method of increasing productivity," and similar other trash. However, ND actually contributes very little that is original to the slanders that the bourgeois ideologues have often heaped against Marxism. Thus ND’s main line of attack is to make Marxism responsible for the bloody state capitalist regimes of the former Soviet Union and its satellites of Eastern Europe, China, Cuba and so on. For ND, as for the rest of the bourgeoisie, the regimes of these countries were/are "Marxist dictatorships" because the dominant class there and all over the world says so.

And, if revolutionaries, armed with the tools of Marxism, show that in those countries there has never existed anything but capitalist production relationships, while their dominant class regimes pretend to cover their brutal exploitation of the working class with the most trivial "marxist" phraseology, then according to ND revolutionaries "miss the point entirely." But ND is not satisfied with simply repeating its bourgeois mentors –that would show their true capitalist colors too obviously. While the latter denounce Marxism to oe latter denounce Marxism to obliterate any idea of working class revolution, ND swears that it does so to put "revolution in the agenda." In their own words: "we don’t criticize Marxism to attack the idea of revolution; we criticize it to put the idea of revolution back in the public agenda in a way that can inspire millions of people to build the revolutionary movement and make it succeed where the old movements failed."

This may sound like a commendable intention, but… the road to hell is paved with good intentions. As Marx used to say

"as in private life one distinguishes between what a man thinks and says of himself and what he really is and does, still more in historical struggles must one distinguish the phrases and fancies of the parties from their real organism and their real interests, their conceptions of themselves from their reality" (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, emphasis ours).

And the reality of ND, its real function, its raison-d’etre, as shown by its whole activity is to contribute to the mystification of the working class through the spreading of lies against Marxism. It is on this basis that we have denothis basis that we have denounced ND as a bourgeois group, regardless of how their members may earn a living; whether they are workers or petty bourgeois, or police agents, or whatever, is not an important issue. The central issue is what is the nature of the political positions and activity of the organization.

Marxism and New Democracy’s "revolutionary" ideas

According to ND, the "fundamental problem" with Marx is his view "of people and class struggle." Marx, the say, "thought working class people and capitalists are both motivated by the same thing –self interest. Marx understands the conflict between these classes as a conflict between the self interest of people who exploit others versus the self interest of people who are exploited." Next, ND begs to disagree with this "fundamental problem" and declares its ‘alternative": "working people object to exploitation not out of self interest but because they think it is wrong for anybody to be exploited." Thus for ND "class struggle is a struggle over what values should shape society, not a tug of war over competing self-interest." This is why the upcoming revolution will be the result of evolution will be the result of the victory of a an already existing "working class culture based on the values of solidarity, equality and democracy …against the capitalist values of inequality, competition and top down control." ND’s arguments are so contorted that one finds it difficult to choose where to begin to respond.

For a start let’s clarify marxism’s view "of people and class struggle," which, if it means anything, is marxism’s materialist conception of history. The whole view of world history up to the beginning of XIX century was based on the conception that the ultimate causes of the historical changes of society were to be found in the changing ideas —what ND calls "values"— of human beings, and, that of all the changes, political changes are the most important, and are dominant in world history. It was only after the French revolution that bourgeois historians began to recognize that the since at least the Middle Ages the developing force in European history was the struggle of the developing bourgeoisie against the feudal aristocracy for social and political domination. Marx, for his part, proved that the whole of previous history is a history of class struggles, a struggle for the social and political domination of social classes cr domination of social classes created by the material conditions in which society at a given point produces and exchange its means of subsistence

In the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx gives an integral formulation of this conception in the very well known passage, which despite its length, we will quote in its entirety as it succinctly presents the essence of the Marxist view:

"In the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material forces of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society — the real foundations on which rises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.

The mode of production in material life determines the social, political and intellectual life processes in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being but, on the contrary, their social being determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the materiof their development, the material forces of production in society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or — what is but a legal expression of the same thing — with the property relations within which they had been at work before.

From forms of development of the forces of production these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations the distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production which can be determined with precision of natural science and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic — in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out…In broad outlines, we can designate Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois forms of production as progressive epochs in the economic formation of society.

The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production — antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism but of one arising from the social conditions ofng from the social conditions of life of individual; at the same time the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society create the material condition for the solution of that antagonism…"

This materialist conception of Marx, together with his discovery of surplus value –the demonstration of how within present society under the existing capitalist mode of production, the exploitation of the worker by the capitalist takes place — was and is of supreme importance for the working class communist movement. It allowed the working class for the first time to understand the reason for the historical division of society into classes, into exploiters and exploited, rulers and ruled, oppressors and oppressed, and put in firm theoretical ground its movement for its own emancipation, which contains the uprooting of the economic conditions in which the existence of classes and class rule is based.

For Marx, the working class revolution was based on the fact capitalist relations of production would become too narrow, a "fetter" for the progressive development of society, and reaching that point would sink humanity in an ever-growing barbarism — a projection that the history of most of last century so brilliantly confirmed. Certainly this revolution, or the class struggle which leads to it, have nothing to do with "what values should shape society and who should rule it" (ND). In making its revolution the working class, as Marx said when analyzing the uprising of Parisian workers during the days of the "Commune", "have not ideals to realize…" in the sense of the ready-made utopias –or ND’s "values based on love and equality and solidarity" — set to be introduced by decree. Foreshadowing ND over a hundred years ago Marx would write:

"In the full consciousness of their historic mission, and with heroic resolve to act up to it, the working class can afford to smile at the coarse invective of the gentlemen’s gentlemen with pen and inkhorn, and at the didactic patronage of well-wishing bourgeois-doctrinaires, pouring forth their ignorant platitudes and sectarian crotchets in the oracular tone of scientific infallibility." (The Civil War in France).

We cannot conclude without saying a few words about ND’s "critique" of the "Communist Manifest," which they pompously pronounced previously, but also maintain in their recent text inmaintain in their recent text in Discussion Bulletin. In its response to our denunciation of its politics in Discussion Bulletin, ND states that the Communist Manifesto’s "dominant theme" is "whatever increases economic production is good; whatever fetters it is bad" and, full of sentimental indignation, protests about Marx speaking of "capitalists as a positive force in its early years.".

The first affirmation is nothing but a stupid slander of Marx and Engels, and as regards the second, we claim its absolute validity. In describing the historical development of capitalism in The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels recognized the revolutionary role played by the bourgeoisie –as the bearer of large scale industry and the world market — in contrast to feudal aristocracy which struggled to keep their social position and the obsolete relations of production of feudalism. This is an historical fact –that ND likes it or not matters little — just as it is that that today bourgeois rule has become together with the relations of production that it represents not only a hindrance for the development of society, but a menace for its very existence. Furthemore that the bourgeoisie has become "unfit to rule" has absolutely no to rule" has absolutely nothing to do with changes in the ideology of the bourgeoisie or in ND words "with any change in capitalist values." In fact over two hundred years after the bourgeois French Revolution, bourgeois ideologues continue to hold fast to its historical ideological motto: "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" —spiced today with the catch word "democracy."

That this motto coincides almost word for word with the ND "model of social change and revolution" based on the "values of equality, solidarity and democracy," should surprise no one; it proves, if it were still necessary, the bourgeois character of this group and how misplaced are its militants when they say: "we don’t trace our thinking to any particular individuals from the past." Despite their claims of being new thinkers, so reactionary are the politics of ND, that their analysis of ideas or values as the motor force of history dates back to the 18th century, and their revolutionary watchwords are a throwback to the French Revolution at the end of that century.

Eduardo Smith.